During the holidays, most of us make every effort to spend time with the people we love. We cook, clean the house, and wrap presents. We brave frantic airports to join family who live out of town for whatever celebrations are meaningful to us. And if we have a friend or loved one who lives in a care community, many of us make time for a special visit if the person’s health does not permit them to leave the facility.
Skilled nursing and assisted living facilities do their best to make the holiday season joyous and meaningful for residents. The facility will most likely have a special meal planned and a full schedule of carolers, volunteer visits, and other entertainment. But nothing beats a personal visit from someone special to us. Visits from family and friends provide an opportunity to stay in touch, express emotions, share experiences, and simply enjoy time together. Above all, visits help reassure the person you are visiting that he or she is still an important family member or friend.
Here are some tips for having a more meaningful holiday visit.
Make a Plan
Surprises are fun, but keep in mind that your loved one would probably prefer knowing ahead of time when to expect you. That way they can look forward to the visit. And they can be rested and ready, with no other scheduled activities or therapy to conflict with the visit.
A little preparation goes a long way. For example, think for a moment about your loved one’s needs and interests. What would they appreciate most in a visit? Would they enjoy:
- having someone to talk with?
- discussing what’s happening in the family, community, or world?
- being asked for an opinion or advice?
- listening to music?
- having a story or the newspaper read aloud?
- sharing an activity or meal?
- keeping up past relationships?
- being touched or hugged?
While You Are There
During your visit, one thing will stand above all the rest—the quality of being completely focused on your visit and the person you are visiting.
Chances are that your visit is one stop in your busy day. It is easy to be distracted by where you were last, or what you’ll be doing next. Without really thinking about it, you might express to the person you’re visiting just how busy you are. This may make them feel like you aren’t fully present during your visit.
Staying focused and attentive shows that you value your visits—that you enjoy them as much as the person you are visiting does. It shows that your visit isn’t simply an obligation.
And when it comes to being focused and attentive, remember that your body language often speaks louder than words. So set aside as much time as you can comfortably afford, then relax and give your time and attention at a calm and caring pace.
This is the time of year that many of us like to give gifts. Remember, though, that space is usually limited in a nursing facility, so the best rule of thumb is to keep gifts small, simple, and personal. Here are some suggestions:
a card with a meaningful message—this can be one you purchase or make yourself
- flowers or a plant
- books, either hard copy or electronic
- personal care items (such as soap or lotion)
- a handmade quilt
- comfortable, adaptive clothing that is machine washable (talk to staff about labeling clothes)
- non-perishable food items (but check with staff first)
Talk to staff ahead of time if you have questions about gifts you would like to bring.
Ending Your Visit
Ending a visit is sometimes difficult. Many residents and guests find that using the last few minutes to plan the next visit, or to talk about upcoming activities or events at the facility, is a useful way to ease the transition and lessen the awkwardness of parting from a loved one. Staff can give you additional suggestions if saying goodbye is a problem.
Dealing With a Difficult Situation
As residents and family members deal with prolonged illness or disability and the need for long-term care, this may raise some powerful emotions in both the residents and family members. A recent event or long-standing unresolved issue may trigger feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, fear, or loneliness—both in you and in the person you are visiting. In addition, the effects of medications, fatigue, and physical or mental challenges may cause expressions of resentment and other difficult behaviors from your loved one.
The important point is to understand and accept that some visits may be emotionally trying. That doesn’t mean that your visit was not meaningful or useful, nor does it mean that you should not visit again, or as often as you might otherwise. But if you are having trouble dealing with strong emotions or difficult behavior, be sure to get help. The facility’s social worker can help you understand what is going on, and can make practical suggestions, such as when the best time to visit would be, how long to stay, and so on. Additional resources, such as a support group, might also be available.
Check-In With Staff
As part of your visit, it is often a good idea to check in with staff. Your support and personal involvement will always be appreciated. And your knowledge of the person you are visiting helps the care team understand the resident’s unique needs and feelings.
Five Ideas For Your Next Visit
- Work on a family photo album.
- Share a meal together in the dining room or resident’s room.
- Go for a stroll outdoors if the weather permits, or sit outside and talk if there is a patio or courtyard.
- Bring a younger family member or a pet (but check first with staff).
- Bring an old friend who probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit.